The Sisters School District faces a tough problem: an $800,000 budget hole for next school year. But it also has a great asset: an active, constructive relationship with its community.
When the district decided it should consider a four-day school week to save money, it put out the word and invited community members to a workshop. They came, with more than 30 speaking up, according to The Nugget Newspaper, and the tone was respectful and constructive.
The budget gap is being blamed on gradually decreasing enrollment, which cuts income from the state. Since 2006, Sisters schools have lost about 215 students. The district also has debt from bonds for school repairs and payments to the state, because of incorrectly reporting its home-school population back in 1999.
The four-day week wasn’t popular with many who spoke, despite Superintendent Jim Golden’s report that it can have positive impacts beyond saving money. Some also complained about the disproportionate impact the plan would have on the classified staff, which would take a 20 percent pay reduction. (Teachers would still work a full schedule, using the fifth day for planning.)
Some worried the short week would cause transfer students to leave the district, diminishing the savings. Eighty-five students now attend Sisters schools despite living in another district, each one bringing $6,700 in state money, the Nugget reported. One speaker suggested the district could increase the number of transfer students by advertising the option.
The meeting concluded with a plan for resident Winter Lewis to form a committee to come up with alternative suggestions, while the board and district do the same in advance of an April 9 meeting. Days later, the board voted to remove the four-day week from consideration, at least for now, in the hope that other solutions could be found.
It’s gratifying to see a community tackle a serious problem without the kind of anger and suspicion and fault-finding that too often dominate such discussions. Credit goes to both the district and the citizens for keeping open minds and open dialogue.